From the beach to the pool, what swimmers and sunbathers need to know about COVID-19

Medical Watch

Whether on shore or on the pool deck, is COVID-19 lurking? As temperatures heat up and we dive into summer activities, infectious disease experts say the greatest threat isn’t in the water.

Dr. Robert Murphy is a Northwestern Medicine infectious disease physician.

“We are definitely in the home stretch,” he said. “We have to learn how to come out of this together. And we can do it safely or we can be reckless. …  It’s an experiment. If enough people that are congregating are not infected, of course the infection doesn’t spread. But it doesn’t take too many infected people to cause an outbreak to occur.”

On Memorial Day, boat slips in the Chicago area were empty.  

“If you practice social distancing the risk is very, very low because not only do you have that six-foot space between people or between families, but you have the sun,” Murphy said. “The sun, the ultraviolet light from the sun is actually quite lethal to the virus.”

When you are outside you have a lot more air mixture so it’s really three things social distancing, the sun and being outdoors. All those things are in your favor

But what about in the water?

“This virus actually doesn’t like the water, it drowns in water, so the water isn’t what’s transmitting it,” Murphy said.  “It would be swimming in water next to a person who is gasping, breathing, coughing -— whatever you would get it from the person you wouldn’t get it from the water.”

It’s the same for the swimming pool, where chemicals that kill bacteria work the same against the virus.

“The virus just doesn’t like water period. The chlorine makes it worse,” Murphy said. “It’s not the best disinfectant, but it just doesn’t like water and chlorinated water. … Whether it’s swimming pool water, lake water or ocean water it’s not a water born disease fortunately.”

Practice common sense and a trip to the beach will be smooth sailing.

“Keep to yourself,” Murphy said.  “You can’t have that massive congregation. That is just a disaster waiting to happen. … We’ve come so far. We have suffered so much, to give up just a couple steps too soon, the price is really very high to pay.”

It’s not much longer before we’re going to get out of this but let’s get out of it safely

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